Writing a children’s book is hard, but so is illustrating and designing it. Yet everyone seems to think he or she can create a children’s a course in miracles. Plenty has been written about why children’s book authors need feedback from children on the story before they publish a children’s book. But just as important is getting feedback on illustrations and from the adults who might actually be the ones who read the book to children. No matter how good the story might be, more than with any other type of book, how a children’s book looks is going to determine whether kids or adults want to read or buy it.
In other words, hire a professional illustrator and a professional layout and design person. In this age of computers and all kinds of graphic design programs, everyone thinks she can design her own children’s book. The result is usually a disaster made by someone who doesn’t understand that less is more. Many things need to be avoided when designing a children’s book. Based on years of experience reviewing children’s books and seeing what my children and grandchildren have and haven’t liked, here are a few tips on what not to do:
Unprofessional Artwork: With a children’s book, a picture is worth a thousand words, and trust me, little kids know the difference between good and bad art. You may not be able to tell what they are depicting in their own drawings, but they know when something “sucks.” I was discussing children’s books with a friend of mine one day who recalled a particular book he read as a child where the pictures were colored in with dots. He doesn’t remember anything about the book other than there were a bunch of animal pictures and a recurring question for each one such as, “Why was the lion unhappy?” My friend remembers his mother reading the book out loud and he repeatedly answered these questions by saying, “Because he has bugs all over him.” The dots in the illustrations looked like a swarm of flies or bees encircling the animals, which was a real turn off to him and made him not like the book-in short, the illustrations were not very good.
Lately, I’ve seen a trend in self-published children’s books to have illustrations done by children. Really? Why would an eight-year old want to read a book illustrated by an eight-year old? The kid could have drawn his own book instead. I don’t know about your kids, but the ones I’ve known have always liked good illustrations. When you have a child illustrate your book, it just looks like a mess and you often can’t even tell what the illustrations are. Almost as bad is when the author does the illustrations him- or herself. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve seen where the illustrations were done with colored pencils-I’m not talking watercolor pencils here. When reproduced, the pictures look cheap and scribbled. Sadly, a couple of times I’ve been mistaken-illustrations I thought had been done by a child actually were done by an adult-why didn’t anyone tell this person he can’t draw!
Pay the extra to have a professional artist create your illustrations. Look at samples of the person’s work before you hire him or her. It will make a big difference in how your book is viewed by children and adults alike.